Wednesday, January 30, 2013

E-Filers Beware

A Hearing Board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has reprimanded an attorney who permitted documents with unredacted personal identifying information (such as social security numbers) to be electronically filed with the Northern District of Illinois's CM/ECF system. As is common at law firms, it was actually a non-lawyer assistant who filed the documents, using the attorney's log-in credentials. Here are the stipulated facts:
1.    In 2010, Respondent, an associate attorney at the law firm of Greene and Letts in Chicago, Illinois, was the attorney responsible for all cases stemming from a contract the law firm had with the United States Department of Justice to represent the United States in debt collection cases involving student loans.
2.    In July and August 2011, at Respondent's direction, one of Respondent's several non-lawyer assistants prepared complaints and corresponding exhibits alleging that defendants were indebted to the United States for failure to pay student loans.
3.    At Respondent's direction, one of Respondent's several non-lawyer assistants logged on to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ("N.D. Ill.") Case Management/Electronic Case File ("CM/ECF") system to file the complaints and exhibits.
4.    When logging on to the CM/ECF system, one of Respondent's several non-lawyer assistants, was required to check a box that declared that the filings were in compliance with Rule 5.2(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 5.2(a)"), which required that personal identifying information be redacted from all filings.
5.    The exhibits that Respondent attached to the complaints were loan documents that contained the defendants' personal identifying information, such as social security number, date of birth, and account numbers. In numerous complaints and exhibits, defendants' personal identifying information was not redacted, which cause the defendants' personal identifying information to be available to the public and viewable on the N.D. Ill. website home page.
6.    In late August 2011, defendant Aimee Krause ("Krause") notified the Clerk of the N.D. Ill. and Respondent that her personal identifying information was available to the public and viewable on the N.D. Ill. website home page.
7.    Also, Krause notified Respondent that other defendants' named in complaints filed by Respondent's had their personal identifying information in exhibits not redacted, and thus available and viewable on the N.D. Ill. website home page. The Clerk of the N.D. Ill. also notified Respondent of other defendants with personal identifying information not redacted in the exhibits.
8.    After Respondent was made aware that defendants' personal identifying information was not redacted, Respondent or his non-lawyer assistants at Respondent's direction, filed motions to correct and replace exhibits. However, Respondent did not provide appropriate supervision to his non-lawyer assistants to ensure that Respondent's subsequent filings were redacted as required to comply with Rule 5.2(a).
A reprimand under these circumstances certainly seems appropriate. First, I am well aware of the little check-box you have to check every time you log in to the Northern District's CM/ECF system. If you don't check the box, you don't get to file. This serves as a conspicuous reminder of the duty to redact this kind of information from filings. Second, this particular attorney was engaged in debt collection, and nearly every document involved in that kind of practice is plastered with the forbidden information. So he should have known well to be careful.

But this reprimand is a useful reminder that the duty to redact this information is not to be taken lightly. It's also a reminder that good help is hard to find.

h/t: Legal Profession Blog

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